Beware of This Trap

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Beware of This Trap

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Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

I remember sitting in a room with other pastors listening to a leader who was highly respected for his discipleship materials, teaching us about righteousness. Specifically, he was telling us how the Old Testament Law was God’s revelation of how one lives righteously. He said we needed to double down and train our people to take spiritual lessons from the law so their lives would reflect God’s glory.

For the first time, I realized I was in the presence of someone Paul would call a purveyor of another gospel. I suppose I had missed seeing this before because his books seemed so helpful and his style so compelling. But the foundation of his teaching really contradicted Jesus’ gospel.

The fact is that Galatians was written because of this very issue. Some were teaching that the way you become a righteous follower of Jesus is to obey the law of the Torah, which had been handed down from God through Moses to the chosen people. As the first to trust in Christ, it appeared to them that the gospel and the law were a match made in heaven.

Paul violently pushed back. “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:6-8)

Catch that? If you teach this different gospel, you will be under God’s curse! Not a lot of wiggle room here. So pay attention to what Paul is talking about. This is not a different gospel because it teaches that people will be justified through the law. It is a different gospel because it teaches that people will be sanctified though the law. Their formula was Jesus + The Law = Righteousness.

Keeping in step with the Spirit is the part of the gospel Paul sees being left out of this different gospel. Instead, believers are being encouraged to pursue righteousness by being circumcised and living out the Torah laws’ requirements. It is a total dependency on one’s flesh to become like Jesus. For Paul, this is an utter denial of the gospel. It is no gospel at all!

But this seems to feel right even today to too many believers and a number of teachers, although it is rarely stated so starkly. The law is holy. Many of the earliest believers, who were Jewish, followed the Mosaic Covenant. It would seem that it was a natural continuance to, say, keep the Ten Commandments. To point to those commandments as the standard of what God expected of all of us who followed them into the faith. I mean, everyone gets the Ten Commandments, right? We memorize them, put them on courthouses and believe they are the summary of what God gave on Mount Sinai.

Why would this be a denial of the true gospel? —Precisely because it is focused on the wrong thing. It’s Christ—his life—that is our righteousness! “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Paul is not saying that believers should be without any guidelines, that nothing is sinful. In other letters, he goes into some detail about what we should not be doing as believers. But what he wants us to know about the gospel is that Jesus is enough. Jesus will both justify us and sanctify us—by the empowering presence of the Spirit.

Since we live in the Spirit . . .” is the first step of keeping in step with the Spirit. If you are going to be transformed into Jesus’ likeness rather than try to reform yourself to look like Jesus, you have to be convinced in your mind that there is no other way. No other version of the gospel. The Spirit’s power is the only way. Or you have nothing at all that will remake you into the righteous person God has already decided you will become.

-Steve Smith


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